Back and forth, back and forth they went Tuesday night at Western Financial Place as the Calgary Hitmen skated to an 8-7 overtime victory in Game 3 of WHL’s Eastern Conference Quarter-final to take a 2-1 series lead over the Kootenay Ice.
“That was not the game both teams really set out to play,” said Hitmen forward Adam Tambellini Tuesday night. “With our first two games being pretty low scoring, that was definitely an interesting game, but we’re just really happy we came out on top in that one.
“They played really well in the first two games and stole that one on our home ice. We really needed to come here and get this game, especially this first one here.”
Through Games 1 and 2 in Calgary, the Ice and Hitmen combined to score 12 goals.
Tuesday night was a completely different story as the Ice and Hitmen came together and did their best to burn out the red goal lights at Western Financial Place, scoring 15 times through 61:12 of electrifying playoff hockey.
Tambellini was the final man to light the lamp Tuesday.
On a rush down the right wing, the 6-foot-3 native of Edmonton registered the game-winning goal — his hat-trick marker on the evening — 1:12 into overtime to kill a spirited rally from the home side.
“I didn’t have much room to get to the net and didn’t really see much of a passing option,” Tambellini said. “I kind of just wanted to throw it on net, saw a couple guys in front. After that, I heard a stick and saw the red light come on. I don’t really know how it bounced in.”
Just as 2,126 fans in attendance were ready to leave their seats, Game 3 was knotted up one final time as Ice defenceman Rinat Valiev scored with four seconds remaining in regulation to tie the game 7-7 and force overtime.
Game 3 marks the second consecutive game the Ice have dropped to the Hitmen in overtime, after falling 3-2 in Game 2 Sunday afternoon in Calgary.
“We’ve got to move on,” said Kootenay Ice head coach Ryan McGill. “I don’t think all three goaltenders are real happy about their game. We’ve got to move on and we certainly have to put ourselves in a better position to help our goaltender. One thing about the playoffs is you’ve got to have a real short memory. The best thing about that is we get to play [Wednesday].
“You’ve got to roll with the punches sometimes. You’ve got to roll with the way the game’s going and try to score that last goal. Unfortunately we didn’t.”
With 15 goals scored between the two teams, it might be hard to pinpoint one particular star on either side of the puck, but Ice forward Tim Bozon scratched his name on the scoresheet an astounding six times as he tallied two goals and four assists in a losing cause.
“After two losses in overtime, we have to make sure we come out strong and show this team what we’re capable of doing,” Bozon said. “It’s not playoff scores — 8-7, I don’t know what to say. It’s crazy. For the fans, it’s probably good, but we’re not happy with that.”
Bozon’s performance in Game 3 tied a franchise record for most points in a post-season game, last set by forward Jaedon Descheneau, who tallied one goal and five assists March 24, 2014.
Oddly enough, Descheneau’s performance came during Game 3 of the 2014 WHL Eastern Conference Quarter-final — a 7-6 win for the Ice over the Hitmen.
In Game 3, Mack Shields earned his first start between the pipes in this series after coming on in relief of Brendan Burke for the third period of Game 2 in Calgary. Unfortunately for the native of Saskatoon, his evening lasted little more than 30 minutes as he was pulled in favour of Burke after allowing four goals on 21 shots.
“I think that’s their weakness. Their goalies, both of them are kind of struggling right now,” Bozon said.
“For us, we know either way, we have to put pucks on net, shoot from everywhere. Look at the goal that Alfaro scored — it’s happened twice already in the series. We have to keep doing that. I wouldn’t say they’re brutal, but we have to keep putting pucks on net.”
It certainly wasn’t a goaltending battle for the ages, as Burke was burned on the first shot he faced when Valiev tallied his first of the night on a cannon from the point.
Burke finished the night with eight saves on 11 shots.
At the other end, Ice goaltender Wyatt Hoflin remained where he has been nearly all season long — between the pipes for the entirety of the game — stopping 30 of 38 Hitmen attempts.
The two teams combined for five goals in the first period, five goals in the second period, before slowing the pace for a four-goal third period.
Tied 5-5 following 40 minutes of play, Matt Alfaro — referenced earlier by Bozon — snuck a puck between the post and Burke from a tough angle to give his team a 6-5 lead only 2:12 into the third period.
Tambellini scored his second goal of the night, with Austin Vetterl in the penalty box, to knot things up once again.
Moments later, Taylor Sanheim registered his first goal of the post-season to put the Hitmen back out in front by a 7-6 margin.
A barn-burner of a first period set the tone for Tuesday’s crazy game as fans watched the two teams combine for five goals, including four tallies in the opening 11 minutes of play.
Sam Reinhart opened the scoring with a blistering wrist shot that Shields barely flinched at. The lightning-quick release of Reinhart opened the festivities 2:13 into the opening period.
Moments later, Hitmen forward Chase Lang went hard to the net and was rewarded for his work as he found a rebound and chipped it over the outstretched pad of Hoflin.
The back-and-forth continued as Bozon restored the Kootenay lead, slipping into the slot and snapping a shot past Shields.
The Hitmen turned things the other way once again as Pavel Karnaukhov made good on an Ice turnover by sliding a backhand shot short side on Hoflin to tie the game 2-2.
With Levi Cable serving his first of four trips to the penalty box, Tambellini snapped a shot from the high slot that beat Hoflin for a 3-2 Hitmen lead.
By the end of the night, there were a total of 10 multi-point scorers between the two teams.
Hitmen defenceman Travis Sanheim continued his excellent 2014-15 campaign by posting one goal and four assists in Game 3, while Tambellini registered three goals, including the overtime winner.
Outside of Bozon’s record-tying six-point performance, Reinhart turned in two goals and an assist.
“We know they’ve got a lot of good players over there and Bozon is one of them — a really offensive threat that can hurt you,” Tambellini said. “For us, we’ve just got to key down — not just on him, but a lot of their top guys and hopefully contain them to the outside more.”
If Tuesday night wasn’t enough entertainment for fans in Cranbrook, the Ice and Hitmen get right back to it Wednesday night, with Game 4 slated for a 7 p.m. start at Western Financial Place.
For the Ice, the message is simple as they try to tie the series 2-2 before heading back to Calgary for Game 5 Friday night.
“One shift at a time,” McGill said. “I know it’s a cliche, but one shift at a time. Make sure we focus on paying attention and really taking care of all the little details that made us successful.”
For the Hitmen, they look upon an opportunity to take a commanding 3-1 series lead.
“It’s a quick turnaround. Hopefully we can carry a little bit of confidence into [Wednesday] and know that we can win here but not get too high,” Tambellini said. “We know what they can do over there and I’m sure it will be a good game.”
Notes: Courtesy two Tambellini power-play tallies, the Hitmen power play went 2-for-5 in Game 3… The Ice were 0-for-2 with the man advantage… Ice F Zak Zborosky (undisclosed) sat out Game 3…The KIJHL-champion Kimberley Dynamiters were honoured during the first intermission, while the Pee Wee Tier 2 Provincial-champion Cranbrook Eagles were honoured during the second intermission…
AUDIO: Adam Tambellini, Calgary Hitmen:
AUDIO: Ryan McGill, Kootenay Ice: